7. Continuing the conversation
The Framework opened a public discussion on Scotland's finances. The Scottish Government is keen to understand how we keep this discussion going and effectively engage individuals, communities and organisations across the nation.
Q6. In Chapter 3 we shared that this Resource Spending Review is taking a consultative approach to ensure that we engage with people and organisations across Scotland as we develop multi-year financial plans. Our intention is to use the Resource Spending Review to continue the Scottish conversation on public spending going forwards.
We welcome your views on how best to continue our engagement with people and organisations after the Resource Spending Review.
Most respondents to the consultation provided an answer to this question. In many cases that included welcoming the opportunity to comment, and a willingness to engage further. A number of these, and other, themes were highlighted by respondents.
Understanding the budget
A recurring theme, in responses from individuals and organisations, was the need for budget information to be accessible, inclusive and understandable. One organisation said people's level of confidence should be considered as "they may feel they need "expert" knowledge" to respond. One individual requested "short and simple" and "bite sized" information with "Key headliners.. you said this, we're doing this, it means this for you". The Mental Welfare Commission suggested an accessible format, with access to a range of communication aids. The SWBG said that how information is presented is "crucial", and identified work by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre as a good example. The SWBG also noted that "producing a Citizen's Budget document annually to provide budget information in a clear, accessible way that links to everyday life would be an important step forward".
Time to respond
Some respondents highlighted the need for adequate time to be provided to enable effective engagement. In this case, SCVO said it was "pleased with the length of time offered to respond to this consultation", but also highlighted that the short time provided for other engagement opportunities by government and parliament has been "often compounded by holding consultations over key holiday periods such as the summer".
Voluntary Health Scotland suggested that a more "joined up approach across the SG" would lead to "greater awareness of the number and nature of consultations underway at any given time". The Scottish Property Federation said that budgetary process more generally "suffers from insufficient scrutiny due to timetable pressures". COSLA supported a longer-term conversation about fiscal sustainability, but said that "engagement needs to be genuinely ongoing, meaningful, accessible and easy to understand".
A recurring theme from respondents was, as the ALLIANCE described it, the "imperative that the voices of lived experience are listened to and placed at the centre of decision making". This was a view supported by several others, for example, in relation to mental health (Penumbra and Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland), those with alcohol issues (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems), families with lived experience of poverty in Scotland (CPAG), and college learners (Colleges Scotland). This was also noted in respondents' answers to the question on equality assessment (see above).
Diversity of views
Several respondents highlighted the need to bring in a diversity of views, and as Scotland's Learning Partnership said, "not always involving the usual suspects". SWBG said that "ensuring particular efforts are made to hear from those who are marginalised and often excluded from such processes is vital". The Mental Welfare Commission highlighted groups in the BAME population for example, "who traditionally have less engagement in public consultations". YoungScot said that engaging with young people "is paramount to ensuring they have a voice", and the Scottish Science Advisory Council called for a "more pro-active approach to exposing the younger generation… to how policy is developed".
Deeper levels of engagement
Related to the issue of drawing in lived experiences, and a diversity of views, several respondents discussed new and, potentially, deeper types of engagement. At one level, one individual suggested a "higher profile" was needed for this type of consultation. More fundamentally, Children in Scotland said that there should be a move "away from language that talks about a "consultative approach" towards language that commits to a "participatory approach"". Referencing their "Being Bold" report, they suggested "children and their families need to be involved across the entire budget process". The Scottish Community Development Centre said that a "co-productive approach to continuing the conversation… can help to broaden both the reach and depth of these conversations". The ALLIANCE also said that "meaningful partnership working and co-production should be enabled and encouraged".
A few respondents highlighted the role of Citizens' Assemblies. For example, the David Hume Institute said that experience showed that when provided with objective information and space to reflect on it (via a Citizens' Assembly), "people with vastly different opinions came to consensus about the way ahead". Renfrewshire Council said the government should consider putting in place "a standing Citizens' / Business Assembly".
The Scottish Science Advisory Council suggested that "increased engagement of the public during the pandemic through virtual means could be built on and systematised". Consultation and communication should also continue throughout the Spending Review Period (SCVO and CPAG).
Related to this, as part of the external engagement work, EBAG noted that there was a risk that consultations can feel extractive and that capacity building is needed around this. At the Civil Society – Climate Change roundtable participants noted that any consultative or participative process should then report back to contributors on how their input has been actioned.
Role of the third sector
The third sector was well represented amongst respondents and a recurring theme identified was that there would be benefits from engaging with third sector organisations. The ALLIANCE said that this should include "grassroots initiatives – who receive funding to understand what level of support is needed". The SCVO said engagement with the voluntary sector is integral, and support is required "to enable the sector to participate as an equal partner". A few respondents also highlighted the benefits of working with the Third Sector Interfaces, as they have access to residents, community and voluntary organisations at a local level.
The importance of partnership working between the third sector and Scottish Government was emphasised at the Third Sector Roundtable.
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